Biology vs botany

Adolf Ceska aceska at FREENET.VICTORIA.BC.CA
Sun Jun 4 09:19:06 CDT 1995

It would be a mistake to assume that the botany of the 18-th
and 19-th century did not deal with sex and was more
suitable for the gentle gender (I hope I use these terms
correctly, English is not my parent tongue). Two excerpts
from BEN (Botanical Electronic News) show how disgusted
Johan Wolfgang Goethe was with the Linnean sex system of
plants and why.


It  is  approximately  sixteen  years  ago [Goethe wrote this in
1820, when he was 71 years old] that Professor Schelver, curator
of the Grand-ducal Immediate Botanical Garden  under  my  direc-
tion,  disclosed  to  me  in  strictest confidence, in that very
garden on the same paths where I still take my  walks,  that  he
had  long had his doubts about the theory ascribing two sexes to
plants and that he was now fully convinced of its  untenability.
[Schelver's  book,  "Critique  of the Theory of the Sexuality in
Plants," appeared in 1812.]

In my nature studies I had religiously  accepted  the  dogma  of
sexuality  in plants and was, therefore, taken aback now to hear
a concept directly opposed to my own. Yet I could  not  consider
the  new  theory  wholly  heretical ... Now his brilliant theory
takes on substance through Henschel's monumentous study ["On the
Sexuality of Plants" published in 1820]; it is earnestly demand-
ing its place in science, although one cannot fortell  how  that
place will be found.

For  the instruction of young persons and ladies this new theory
will be extremely welcome and suitable. In the past the  teacher
of  botany  has been placed in a most embarrassing position, and
when innocent young souls took textbook in hand to advance their
studies in private, they were unable to conceal  their  outraged
moral  feelings.  Eternal  nuptials  going  on  and on, with the
monogamy basic to our morals, laws and  religion  disintegrating
into loose concupiscence - these must remain forever intolerable
to the pure-minded! ... Indeed, we recall having seen arabesques
in  which the sexual relations within a flower calyx were repre-
sented in an extremely graphic way.

Ref.: Goethe's botanical writings. Translated by Bertha Mueller.
      Ox Bow Press, Woodridge, CT. 1989.

(BEN # 97  1-April-1995)

From: R.T. Ogilvie <bogilvie at RBML01.RBCM.BC.CA>

The  article in BEN 97 on Goethe's anti-sex views in plants is a
reaction in his old age  to  his  youthful  enthusiasm  for  the
Linnaean  sexual  system  of plant classification. Linnaeus used
the number of stamens for defining Classes, and  the  number  of
carpels for defining Natural Orders (approximately equivalent to
our present-day Families).

Linnaeus'  classification  system for higher categories was more
precisely a numerical system rather than a sexual  system.  Each
Class  and  Order was given a Latin name, a brief Latin descrip-
tive phrase, a short Latin "anthropocentric" phrase, and in some
editions after 1759 the English equivalent for these  names  and
phrases.  Some  examples,  which may give an idea of what Goethe
was reacting to:

Class Pentandria (Five Males) - five stamens in a  hermaphrodite
      (bisexual) flower (five husbands in the same marriage).
Class  Didynamia  (Two  Powers) - four stamens, two long and two
      short (four husbands, two tall and two short).
Class Monoecia (One House) - male and female flowers on the same
      plant (husbands live with their wives in  the  same  house
      but have different beds).
Class  Dioecia  (Two  Houses)  - male and female flowers on dif-
      ferent plants; (husbands and wives have different houses).
Class Polygamia - bisexual flowers, male, or female  flowers  in
      the   same   species   (husbands   live   with  wives  and
Class Cryptogamia (Clandestine Marriages)  -  flowers  are  con-
      cealed (nuptials are celebrated privately).
Order  Polygamia  Aequalis  (Equal Polygamy) - many florets with
      stamens  and  pistils  (many  marriages  with  promiscuous
Order  Polygamia Spuria Segregata (Spurious Separate Polygamy) -
      many flower- bearing involucres contained  in  one  common
      involucre  (many  beds  united so that they constitute one
      common bed).

Linnaeus first published his system in 1735, and republished  it
many  times  with  minor  changes in the next thirty years. Lin-
naeus' system was widely adopted throughout  Europe  as  a  con-
venient  means  of  identifying plants. France was an exception,
where many French botanists such as Gerard, Adanson, and the  de
Jussieus  rejected  the  Linnaeus  system  because  of  its  ar-
tificiality. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a serious amateur  botanist,
saw  the  value of Linnaeus' system for teaching and used it for
his very popular book on plant  identification  "Essais  Elemen-
taires sur la Botanique" (1771). Goethe was a generation younger
than  Linnaeus  and  Rousseau,  but like Rousseau he was both an
ardent student  of  the  enlightenment  and  a  serious  amateur
botanist.  It  was during the very last years of his life (1820)
that Goethe wrote his remarks criticising the sexual  system  of
plant classification.
(BEN # 98  7-April-1995)

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